- Alexandra Seltzer Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Living in New Jersey, Danielle Lavell had no reason to even know what a Brightlinetrain was until one killed her sister.
Melissa Lavell, 32, was at Northeast Sixth Avenue, a couple blocks south of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Boynton Beach, when she tried to beat the Brightline train Jan. 12.
Lavell and another person crossed the tracks even though the gates were down, police say.
He made it. She didn’t.
Danielle Lavell has since spent her free time researching the trains and said her sister must have grown accustomed to beating the usual slower-speed freights and she became numb to the danger.
“It’s just unbelievable. It just seems surreal that that can even happen,” Danielle Lavell said.
Lavell’s death was a tragic ending to a woman’s life that in later years was even more heartbreaking, as detailed in dozens of police reports. She struggled with drugs including heroin and overdosed at least twice. Her sister died of an overdose in March. Police say she shoplifted from stores and stole from some of those closest to her.
In August, she was shot in the face, arm and thigh — and lived. She helped police find the man suspected of shooting her, only to learn that the Palm Beach County State Attorney decided not to pursue charges three months later because prosecutors said there wasn’t enough evidence.
Like so many others, Lavell tried to get clean in South Florida. She lived here for about seven years and spent time in rehab.
“She did well for a while and unfortunately she took a step back when she took a step forward,” Danielle Lavell said. “It was a little bit of tug and war. I would say Melissa went there and did good in recovery and it got progressively worse through the years of her being there.
“Ultimately she was 32 years old and she was going to live her life how she wanted to.”
Despite the tragedies, the family relishes Melissa’s accomplishments.
“Melissa was most proud of who she was,” Danielle Lavell said. “A strong girl, athletic.”
She was in her homecoming court in high school and participated in competition cheerleading and soccer. She brought her outgoing personality and smarts to Rider University in New Jersey, Danielle said.
She was a daughter, a sister, a granddaughter and an aunt.
Her family has found comfort in learning that Melissa had friends everywhere.
“The amount of people who reached out, from college to elementary school, all said what an amazing wonderful girl,” Danielle Lavell said. “The end of her life was probably a little hard. Was she making the best choices? Probably not. But I don’t want that to define her. She made more right decisions than bad choices.”